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Archive for May, 2017

Battleship!!!

[ 33 ] May 31, 2017 |

Photo Illustration by Elena Scotti/Jalopnik/GMG

Foxtrot Alpha asked me for some thoughts about a future Large Surface Combatant, or “battleship:”

The U.S. stopped building battleships in the 1940s. Aircraft, submarines, and missiles, able to strike more securely and at greater distance than the guns of a battleship, rendered the type obsolete. Nevertheless, over the years various analysts have proposed a new, large surface combatant that would play some of the same roles as a classic battleship.

Let’s imagine what such a ship might look like; what it needs to do, how it would fight, and how much it might cost.

 

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Happy Birthday to Us!

[ 198 ] May 31, 2017 |

LGM went live 13 years ago today. We’re old enough to drink, if we can find an older blog with a fake ID to buy beer for us.

This last year has seen the highest traffic in the history of the blog; we often get in a day what we got in all of 2004.  It’s obviously more than we could have imagined when we started this thing.  We remain an old-school, direct traffic driven blog, with an astonishingly high percentage of traffic coming from repeat commenters.

Accordingly, we wish to thank you very much for the time and effort that you’ve committed to making this blog what it is today.

A bit about our funding; 89% of our revenue comes in through advertising, 12% through donations. We would love to run the site on donations alone, but it’s just not practical. We do try to minimize the obnoxiousness of the advertising, although unfortunately a few bad ads do slip through.  We have made it a point, however, to avoid the most aggressive types of advertising, including pop-ups and quasi-pop-ups.

Paying out, the biggest line item is salary.  The second biggest is server fees, followed by a host of smaller costs (accountant, taxes, fees, etc.). We are also on the very cusp of a redesign that should improve site speed and operability; this will necessarily represent a capital investment on our part.

In that spirit, please indulge us our annual fundraising appeal.  Any amount is appreciated; if the button below does not work, then try the one on the near right sidebar.  If that doesn’t work, or if you’d prefer an alternative avenue of donation, please contact us directly at the e-mail address on the far right sidebar.




If you require additional convincing, here is a sad kitten:

 

 

U.S pulling out of Paris climate agreement

[ 186 ] May 31, 2017 |

Per various sources.

Imagine Donald Trump’s answer to this question: What is a greenhouse gas?

Time for a drink.

Wittgenstein And The Biscuit Monster: A Philosophy of Language

[ 113 ] May 31, 2017 |

Over the bank holiday, or what you Yanks celebrate as Memorial Day, it was National Biscuit Day. It was on this day that I made an important discovery. Cookie Monster has a British cousin who wears a bowler hat. A BOWLER HAT.

Some of you may not be impressed by the cultural analogues of a hypoglycemic blue puppet, which is fine I guess. But maybe you would find this an interesting time to visit a philosophical discussion about the language used on baked goods.

What Is A Jaffa Cake?

First of all, they are not good. Its a bitter orange chocolate sponge “cookie” that tastes like it sat out in the rain. Jaffa cakes are named after Jaffa oranges and have been a staple of the mass produced British sweets collection for about 90 years. Metro UK had it listed at number 5 in the nation’s favourite biscuit survey in 2015. In 2016, The Great British Bake Off held a cake challenge where contestants were tasked with baking the popular confection. So is it a cake or is it biscuit?

The British define biscuit as “A small baked unleavened cake, typically crisp, flat, and sweet.” A cake, by contrast, is “An item of soft sweet food made from a mixture of flour, fat, eggs, sugar, and other ingredients.

So that should clear it up, right? Nope. The debate has existed for decades, even after a legal verdict determined that it was indeed a cake. The motive was purely financial, as biscuits and cakes are subject to different taxes. But the deeper meaning of biscuit and cake is still of relevance to a Cambridge philosopher named Tim Crane.

From an excerpt of a BBC article about the philosophy behind Jaffa Cakes:

There is no record of the 20th Century philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, ever tasting a Jaffa Cake, though there is evidence that he was partial towards a bun. But his ideas are relevant to the Jaffa Cake puzzle.

We are tempted to think that every concept must have a strict definition to be useable. But Wittgenstein pointed out that there are many “family-resemblance” concepts, as he called them. Family members can look alike without sharing a single characteristic. Some might have distinctive cheek bones, others a prominent nose, etc. Equally, some concepts can operate with overlapping similarities. Take the concept of “game”. Some games involve a ball, some don’t. Some involve teams, some don’t. Some are competitive, some are not. There is no characteristic that all games have in common.

And there is no strict definition of “cake” or “biscuit” that compels us to place the Jaffa Cake under either category.

You can listen to more of Tim Crane’s thoughts on the BBC Radio 4 programme The Philosophers Arms here.

So where do you think Biscuit Monster would fall on this issue?

Random Notes from the Campaign

[ 43 ] May 31, 2017 |

 

(Drake Ward canvass team, Plymouth Sutton & Devonport constituency, 30 May 2017. Selfie credit: Cllr. Chaz Singh)

Theresa May demonstrated a trademark lack of consideration in the timing of the snap election, as it’s corresponded with the busiest time of the academic year. I’ve also somehow rather accidentally found myself as a ward leader for this election.  On top of all this, it’s currently half-term, and I’m sole parenting my daughter (not that I’m complaining, at all).  Indeed, it’s been very cool to watch my daughter get involved, with confidence:

(My daughter advising Luke Pollard, our candidate for Parliament in Plymouth Sutton & Devonport, Plymouth Labour Party Hall.  Photo credit: Cllr. Jonny Morris).

She’s been desperate to go canvassing, and this week, she’ll be on six.  However, I’ve been terribly remiss at contributing observations to LGM about the British election. The following are some links and observations on the state of the election here in the UK. I promise neither narrative arc nor coherent thought.

First, the polls are all over the map, though the narrowing of the race since the manifestos were launched is real, and is likely partially due to the shambles of a Conservative manifesto combined with the (surprisingly) rigorous costing of ours. Going into this election, I honestly doubted our national leadership’s ability to quickly frame, and win, an issue as they have with the dementia tax. Practical politics seemed dirty to the leadership, and messaging a concept from a foreign land, all subsumed by the purity of thought that only ideological faith can bring. Yet, we won that argument.

However, we shouldn’t get too excited about a recent YouGov poll that put us only five points behind. The followup has us down seven, and if one reads below the top line figures, Labour and Jeremy Corbyn are significantly behind on critical items (e.g. who would make the better Prime Minister, who is more trusted on security and terrorism, etc.).  This is what caught many out in 2015: while the national polls predicted a hung parliament with a good chance of Labour being the largest single party in the Commons, the cross tabs under the top line suggested that David Cameron had significantly more support as PM over Ed Miliband and the Conservatives were more trusted on the economy). Worse, ICM has us down 12 points as of yesterday. Further fuelling the flames of mis-placed optimism, a YouGov constituency-level estimate released last night has the Conservatives losing 20 seats and an overall majority, with Labour picking up 28. If accurate, this should have us win both Plymouth seats, as we’re ranked 8th and 14th on Labour’s target seat list.  I’ve yet to locate the source data for this, but it’s based on an N of 50,000.  Assuming that’s divided equally across the 650 parliamentary constituencies (which is a crap assumption, but lacking source data, it’s all I have to go by), it’s an N of 77 per seat. In other words, flimsy.

Some final notes. In Labour, we’ve seen more new volunteers than we had in 2015, and they’ve been coming from further afield (Cornwall, Dorset, Somerset, to name just three counties). That we’ve been able to scratch together a well run campaign in a matter of days has been impressive to observe, especially when contrasted with 2015 when we had years to prepare, safe in the assumption that the election would be held on a specific date.

I enjoyed Scott’s piece on the Labour Party manifesto, but there’s one minor point I’ll make in clarification: he writes “while too many Blarities are failing to back the leader of the party . . .”. The Blairite influence in the party (both in the Parliamentary Labour Party specifically and the pre-2015GE membership more generally) is overstated, (not only on the other side of the Atlantic, but here as well).  A good measure for this is the 2015 Labour Party leadership election, with four candidates standing. The only true Blairite standing was Liz Kendall, who secured a monumental 4.46% of the vote. The vote of no confidence in Corbyn as party leader by the PLP in the fallout of the EU referendum last summer, was 172-40. Blairites do not constitute 81% of the PLP; concern over the direction of the party’s leadership was far broader in parliament than the remaining Blairite rump.

Corbyn and Co. have run a much better campaign than many of us expected, but then we were 20-22% down when the election was called over a month ago.

There’s been breathless discussion about the utility of tactical voting for a progressive alliance. It won’t work.

Finally, a shout out to the Greens. The Green Party candidate for the constituency in the north of Plymouth formally endorsed Labour yesterday. In 2015, the Greens captured 1023 votes in the Plymouth Moor View constituency, and the Conservative candidate won by 1026. Of course, had he done so several weeks previously, his name wouldn’t be on the ballot at all; that his name will be on the ballot paper renders this endorsement hollow. Labour and the Greens came within one vote (according to my sources) of the local Green Party not standing at all in either constituency. In 2015, we lost Plymouth Sutton & Devonport by only 523 votes. The Green Party candidate received 3401 votes.

You do the math.

UPDATE . . . sort of.  Here are two links I had left open in my office for when I got around to making a post on the campaign:

Labour are leading overwhelmingly among the young (e.g. 54% to 25% among the 18-24 cohort according to yesterday’s Survation poll) but losing badly among the not-so-young (24% to 44% among the 65+ set).  Unfortunately, as we all know, the young vote at a lower rate than the rest; the 18-24 has been at the bottom of the table in every UK general election since 1964. In 2015, the 18-24s had an estimated turnout of 43%, to 78% for over 65s).  If the youngest cohort voted at the same rate as the over 65s, would it swing the election?  Computer says no.

A week ago or so, Professor Harry Bennett and I did a video interview with the local paper. In all, I think we recorded 45 minutes of chat; the first instalment went up a few days ago about the effect of the Manchester bombing on the campaign.

 

Just Another Night in Donald Trump’s America

[ 65 ] May 31, 2017 |

I’m definitely more interested than ever in how Obama will justify nominating James Covfefe Director of the FBI.

Jared Kushner, SUPERGENIUS

[ 37 ] May 31, 2017 |

I hope the old man bought Harvard an international space station:

But the juxtaposition between his biggest hurdle arriving on the heels of his first measurable success in the White House isn’t new to Kushner. In his former office at 666 Fifth Avenue, the headquarters of his family real estate company, Kushner kept a framed photograph of the first page of Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities,” according to a 2008 profile of Kushner published in the now-defunct Portfolio Magazine.

“But when you think of this, you think, ‘It’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times,’” he said in the rare interview, referring to the first line of the Victorian novel. “But I love how we bought this building literally right after my father came out of prison, probably five, six months after. And the thought that I had was, ‘It’s kind of like the juxtaposition of going from the worst of times to the best of times.’”

Love and life are deeeeeeeeep, man.

The punchline is that 666 Fifth Avenue was a massive boondoggle.

I’d Say the Media’s Obsessive Focus On Hillary Clinton’s Email Server Is Looking Better Than Ever

[ 99 ] May 30, 2017 |

I have long railed against the decision to unilaterally delegate the course of American political history to three writers fired from House of Cards for developing plotlines too lacking in plausibility, but do they have to be this on the nose?

President Donald Trump has been handing out his cellphone number to world leaders and urging them to call him directly, an unusual invitation that breaks diplomatic protocol and is raising concerns about the security and secrecy of the U.S. commander in chief’s communications.

Trump has urged leaders of Canada and Mexico to reach him on his cellphone, according to former and current U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the practice. Of the two, only Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken advantage of the offer so far, the officials said.

Trump also exchanged numbers with French President Emmanuel Macron when the two spoke immediately following Macron’s victory earlier this month, according to a French official, who would not comment on whether Macron intended to use the line.

All the officials demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to reveal the conversations. Neither the White House nor Trudeau’s office responded to requests for comment.

The notion of world leaders calling each other up via cellphone may seem unremarkable in the modern, mobile world. But in the diplomatic arena, where leader-to-leader calls are highly orchestrated affairs, it is another notable breach of protocol for a president who has expressed distrust of official channels. The formalities and discipline of diplomacy have been a rough fit for Trump — who, before taking office, was long easily accessible by cellphone and viewed himself as freewheeling, impulsive dealmaker.

The fact that the media decided to let one trivial issue dominate its coverage of the Clinton campaign with the direct result of electing a president who was far, far worse even on that narrow issue is truly the death row pardon two minutes too late for America.

Sue the Sweatshops

[ 16 ] May 30, 2017 |

Canada slightly improves in my esteem after its ketchup-related crimes by moving in a very positive direction on holding its corporations accountable for sweatshop labor overseas.

Many countries do not have adequate laws to protect human rights and their legal system and governments lean towards corruption and away from punishing large, multinational corporations. So Canadian companies are able to hide behind government corruption and inadequate legal systems to hurt people in ways that would be illegal in Canada.

This year, the British Columbia Court of Appeal allowed a lawsuit to proceed against a Canadian mining company who, allegedly, hired a private security company to open fire on protestors using weapons that included shotguns, pepper spray, buckshot and rubber bullets. The first judge who heard the case ruled that the lawsuit had to proceed in Guatemala. The Court of Appeal disagreed:

I conclude that the judge erred by ignoring the context of this dispute and placing insufficient weight on the risk that the appellants will not receive a fair trial in Guatemala. That risk should not be ignored … I simply conclude that there is some measurable risk that the appellants will encounter difficulty in receiving a fair trial against a powerful international company whose mining interests in Guatemala align with the political interests of the Guatemalan state. This factor points away from Guatemala as the more appropriate forum.

The case shows Canada’s increasing willingness to hear international cases involving Canadian companies. This is a positive trend that could have a positive impact on international business practices.

Canada is not the only country trying international labour and human rights cases. Lawsuits have been brought against Nestlé in the United States, for example, over allegations of human trafficking and child labour in the Ivory Coast.

Lawsuits against Canadian companies operating abroad serve at least three purposes: educating the public by publicly shaming companies; deterring companies from future abuses, thereby hopefully changing business practices; and, compensating victims who would otherwise have no redress in their home country.

There are limits to relying on international lawsuits. They’re expensive, complicated and require a tremendous amount of work. The victims often barely have enough money to feed their families, let alone hire expensive lawyers. So victims need to be connected with funding and Canadian lawyers willing to take on their case; not an easy task. The corporate defendants also have enough finances to hire teams of skilled lawyers to defend them, creating a true David and Goliath scenario.

A few thoughts here.

First, the issue of where a lawsuit is located is critical. Guatemalan workers are not going to receive a fair trial in Guatemala, nor Bangladeshi workers in Bangladesh. In the latter, the sweatshop owners control the government by holding many of the offices. In an international economy, you can’t have corporations able to move around the world at will to find the most favorable legal climate and workers and citizens forced to deal with the laws of where they live. That playing field must be evened if global workplace justice is ever created

Second, the lawsuit really isn’t the most ideal form of enforcement, for the reasons the author states. Workers don’t have the assets for this and neither do their western supporters. Suing a corporation is very hard to do and of course the corporations are making it harder all the time. But it is a tool that can force some sort of legal mechanism to be created. For instance, the workers’ compensation system in the U.S. was only created because after decades of juries and judges rejecting the claims of injured or dead workers and their families, they started accepting them and companies all of a sudden found themselves liable for large damages. They then pushed for some sort of logical system. It favored them more than the workers, but it was a start. That’s the power of lawsuits in a situation like this.

Finally, in the U.S., the non-interventionist left really doesn’t take foreign policy seriously. That’s true from Bernie Sanders on down to your local activist. What trade agreements look like and what corporations do and don’t do overseas is part of this foreign policy. We have to articulate concrete policies around these issues if we want to fix these problems, not to mention if we want to reorient American relationships with other nations in a more positive and less exploitative way. The ability to sue corporations in American courts for the actions in they or their supply chains commit overseas must be part of this package. It’s good politics too, or at least I think so. This should be something of a model for us and I hope we can move to make this a central plank of liberal/left politics in coming years.

Quite an experience to live in fear

[ 122 ] May 30, 2017 |

Thanks to Dan Kois of Slate I now have an answer I can submit to Mike Kinsley’s ongoing “Say Something Nice About Donald Trump” contest. (BTW WTF NYT?)

The Washington Post’s Ashley Parker has a comprehensive story about Donald Trump’s “snubs and slights,” which somehow spins one of the few truly admirable qualities of Donald Trump’s personality—his glee in belittling and humiliating the boot-lickers and opportunists who choose to work for him—into a negative. Working in the Trump White House, Parker reports, is basically like working for an insult comic who’s always trying out new material. From casually shattering Sean Spicer’s dreams of meeting the Pope to warning everyone from his U.N. ambassador to his sons that he can fire them any old time he pleases, Trump regularly rewards his employees’ loyalty with undermining pettiness.

To respond to this assertion that working for Donald Trump is awful, the White House’s Hope Hicks released a remarkable statement that was absolutely not dictated by her boss while he paced behind her, furiously chewing gum:

President Trump has a magnetic personality and exudes positive energy, which is infectious to those around him. He has an unparalleled ability to communicate with people, whether he is speaking to a room of three or an arena of 30,000. He has built great relationships throughout his life and treats everyone with respect. He is brilliant with a great sense of humor . . . and an amazing ability to make people feel special and aspire to be more than even they thought possible.

Why We’re Cillizza’d

[ 91 ] May 30, 2017 |

CNN’s Political Editor-At-Large, everyone, with accurate annotation:

The fact that Cillizza was able to parlay spending 18 months prior to a hugely consequential election writing dumb and often inaccurate shit about inane trivia into more money and a better title is helps to explain how Trump happened. And it’s also not a coincidence that the media outlet that let him walk is one of the few American institutions that’s looking good right now.

Clinton, Biden, Kerry, and the Dilemma of Women in Politics

[ 394 ] May 30, 2017 |

It’s hard to isolate a single key graf from the Rebeca Traister piece we discussed earlier, but this is certainly one of them:

The anger at Clinton from some quarters — in tandem with the beatification of her from others — reminds us just how much this election tapped into unresolved and still largely unexplored issues around women and power. In the aftermath, the media has performed endless autopsies. We have talked about Wisconsin, about Comey, about Russia, about faulty messaging and her campaign’s internal conflicts. We have fought over unanswerable questions, like whether Sanders would have won and whether Clinton was particularly mismatched to this political moment, and about badly framed conflicts between identity politics and economic issues. But postmortems offering rational explanations for how a pussy-grabbing goblin managed to gain the White House over an experienced woman have mostly glossed over one of the well-worn dynamics in play: A competent woman losing a job to an incompetent man is not an anomalous Election Day surprise; it is Tuesday in America.

Let’s make a couple of instructive comparisons. Look — I like Joe Biden. He was a good vice president. But I still find the cottage industry of “Biden woulda won [if he wasn’t somehow, despite being Vice President of the United States, brutally suppressed by the Clinton machine]” assertions amazing. Lets review Joe Biden’s history of seeking presidential nominations, shall we? In 1988, Biden was forced to drop out of the race amid a plagiarism scandal. This race was ultimately won by noted superstar political talent Michael Dukakis, who really did run the inept and underachieving campaign Clinton is accused of running. In 2008, when Clinton barely lost to arguably the foremost political talent the Democratic Party has produced in a half-century, Biden ran a bungling, ineffectual campaign that ended in Iowa with zero delegates. If I may state the obvious, there is zero chance that a woman with that track record would be taken seriously as a presidential candidate. If the answer is that she would if she were vice president, the odds that a woman with Biden’s track record would be nominated as vice president are also roughly 0%.

It’s also not a coincidence that Clinton is treated with far more vituperation on the left than Biden is. Biden is very similar to Clinton — if anything historically a few clicks to the right. But can you imagine, say, Doug Henwood publishing His Turn: Biden Targets the Presidency if Clinton had announced she wasn’t running? And can you imagine a book title implying that it’s somehow unusual and unseemly for a male politician to seek power? I’m not saying gender is the only factor here — Clinton Derangement Syndrome is complicated, and the left variant has roots in very legitimate criticisms of Bill Clinton’s deeply compromised presidency. But it surely is a factor.

Or take John Kerry. Like Clinton he’s a DNC-friendly moderate liberal who voted for the Iraq War. He lost to George W. Bush and lost lost, being -3 million votes rather than +3 million. I think Kerry’s campaign was fine and he did about as well as can be expected, to be clear, but this line of defense is not available to people who think that elections are the sole responsibility of the candidates and discussing structural factors is just sour grapes. (Kerry’s more favorable Electoral College map, by the way, is another data point indicating that the unusual 2016 map was much more about Trump than Clinton, unless you think that the windsurfing patrician from Massachusetts had some special connection with the midwetsern white working class or Bob Shrum is a tactical SUPERGENIUS.) And yet, at the time there was considerably less agonizing on the left about whether he was worth supporting — Nader got .38% of the vote, with Cornel West and many other prominent Naderites endorsing Kerry. And after the fact there has been no significant faction of the left that just about shits in its pants every time Kerry gives an interview or commencement speech, or objected to Kerry continuing as senator or accepting the position of Secretary of State because he was obligated to retire from public life after having lost to George W. Bush. Again, I’m not saying that gender is the only factor here, but it surely is a factor.

Speaking of which, one of our own commenters gave a perfect summary of the latest round of Clinton Derangement Syndrome:

You know, I’m getting tired of all this. Dukakis went away. Gore went away. Mondale went away. McGovern went away.

She’s threatening to turn into William Jennings Bryan, who never went away.

The party desperately needs to develop a new generation of leaders. Those leaders need to have names that are not “Clinton”, both because of electoral reasons (baggage and the fact that the party has moved away from their cautious style of politics) and fairness reasons (we need to stand against family connections as the determinant of who gets ahead).

She’s been sucking up a lot of oxygen since the election. Chelsea has sucked up some too, and so has Bernie Sanders for that matter. It’s not good for the party. Losers need to go away. It’s harsh, but I really wish the Clintons would just go enjoy their retirement somewhere so liberalism can move on and work on 2018 and 2020 without their participation.

If I might be permitted to belabor the obvious:

  • The whole “consuming oxygen” thing is the kind of buzzword used by hacks like Mark Halperin that makes absolutely no sense under any inspection. Political discourse is not zero-sum game. Resistance to Trump is a positive-sum game. Clinton (or Biden, or Bernie) giving a speech or interview doesn’t prevent other Democratic leadership from emerging. The whole concept is nonsensical. Not only Biden and Bernie but Clinton have a lot of fans, and they can all play a useful role in mobilizing opposition to Trump. (Part of the problem here, as Trasiter’s story gets at, is that people who consumingly despise Hillary Clinton seem to be incapable of believing that anybody does like her.) Clinton, like Biden or Bernie, might also do some things that aren’t helpful and should be open to criticism, but the idea that there’s some problem with her saying things in public in principle is utterly absurd.
  • There is no chance that Clinton will run for the Democratic nomination in 2020. And even if she was planning on running, whether or not she gives a commencement speech is neither here not there to her imaginary 2020 run anyway.
  • The tradition of losing presidential candidates going away and never being heard from again is entirely imaginary. Jimmy Carter didn’t. Al Gore didn’t. Kerry, as we’ve discussed, didn’t. Mitt Romney didn’t. John McCain continues to average roughly 2.8 Sunday talk show appearances a week. And losing candidates remaining public figures did not suppress other leaders from emerging or influence the direction of the party in any way, for the obvious reason that CONSUMING OXYGEN is an asinine concept that very dumb pundits use to sound sophisticated.
  • The invocation of Chelsea Clinton really gives away the show. She’s not running for anything. There is no evidence she ever intends to run for anything. Her Twitter feed and her vanity award from a Hollywood trade publication have zero impact on American politics. The only reason she “consumes” any “oxygen” is that some obsessive Clinton haters left and right are also palpably desperate to have more Clintons to kick around.
  • If you don’t want to talk about Hillary Clinton, don’t talk about her. Her giving a commencement speech about the need for fresh leadership at her alma mater doesn’t demand discussion. “I wish Hillary Clinton would stop forcing us to discuss her” is, ah, protesting rather too much.

As I’ve said before — and as Clinton says in the interview — the idea that we should ignore real and ongoing issues like vote suppression and ratfucking by the FBI and the Russian state because it would detract from discussions of how someone who will never run for president again sucks isn’t about winning elections or resisting Trump. It’s pure Clinton Derangement Syndrome, and in at least some measure it helps explain why there have been zero women presidents in American history.

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